The Christmas Rush – Reflections on Procedures

All through the year, we have been building up processes, dealing with the increase in sales and figuring out how to reduce errors and create processes to make the business run more smoothly.  Christmas is now happening, and all these procedures and processes are put to the ultimate test. Some have failed, some need to be adapted to deal with the Christmas rush and some have worked marvelously.

The Successes:

  • The 2 person ship procedure where one person pulls, another packs.  The process is slightly slower; but definitely more accurate than our previous 1-person shipping procedures.
  • Pre-Orders & the New Board Games pages.  They’re great at reducing customer questions on upcoming products; though we do still get these questions.

The Adaptations:

  • Out-of-stock contacts. We generally contact customers immediately when a game is out-of-stock; but since XMas is here and our orders have passed through faster than normal; we have adapted the procedure to only contact customers who have a product that is only going to arrive after XMas.  This way, we reduce questions and save a bit of time – especially when delays are generally only a day long.

The Failures:

  • Our order procedures for stock.  This is an interesting failure, and the fact that it’s been so complete is quite outstanding.  We generally keep a low level of stock, and while we’ve increased our pick-ups to twice a week; we’re still seeing stock-outs at an outstanding pace (for us).  A lot of this is due to an increase in sales that we just weren’t expecting; but some of the blame has to lie with how we deal with re-ordering product.   I’ll have to review our stats and figure out if there’s something we can do to ensure that we don’t stock out as much after XMas is over; though the puzzle of ‘guessing’ what our sales on new board games are remains.  Frankly, I’m not sure there is a solution to that one.

 

Changes to Local Pickup Hours

One of the biggest benefits of having recently hired another full-time employee is that we can now have staff at the office on a regular basis. As a result, we’ve finally managed to do away with the appointment system for Local Pickups and extend our hours.

From now on, customers wanting to pick up games in person instead of paying shipping costs will be able to do so any time from 12pm – 6pm, Monday to Friday. No appointment is required; simply wait until you’ve received a confirmation email informing you that your order is ready for pickup, and come visit us during those hours to get your games.

Our office is located at 311 Rear W Cordova, in the alleyway between Cordova and Water St.

We’re hoping that these new hours will make it easier for customers who live farther away from Downtown or work irregular hours to make use of the Local Pickup option. Let us know what you think!

Sales Revenue by Manufacturer – September 2011

Sorry I haven’t posted anything interesting lately; it’s been a busy couple of months. I’ll probably finish the draft blog posts I have on what’s been keeping us busy, but in the meantime, I thought readers might be interested in the following pie chart. Chart is for September 2011 and shows sales by revenue of products; not profit.

The Miscellaneous section is every other publisher who isn’t in the top 10.  As you can tell, our ‘Miscellaneous’ publishers are very important to us!

October 2011 Newsletter

New RPG Section, Pre-Order List & MMP Games

Many of you might have noticed a new category – Role-Playing Games. We’ve recently introduced this new category and have entered 4 different systems at the moment. If there’s a system you’d like to see us carry more of (other than D&D which we are not able to stock); please do let us know. In the meantime, expect that we will be stocking the full line of books for all these systems in the near future.

We have also launched the Pre-Order Release Date List on the site. We will attempt to keep it up to date as we learn of changes in release dates from our distributors or customers. Let us know if you see any errors, it’s an on-going project that will improve and become more encompassing.

Finally, after much back and forth; we finally opened up a channel of communication to Multi-Man Publishin Games and will be able to stock and sell their games regularly from now on.

Guest Bloggers & Conventions

We have now spent over a month rotating our guest bloggers and their reviews on the site – let us know what you thought of their writing and if it’s something that you have found value in. You can find the reviews here. We and the guest bloggers look forward to your feedback.

Lastly, we just finished a great convention with VCon and will have a Con report up in the coming few weeks. As always, we had a great time and Alison helped run an on-going gaming table at the convention throughout the weekend. The next convention we will be at is Bottoscon (a local wargaming convention) on November 4 – 6, 2011 and we have sponsored both Fallcon in Calgary and the just finished Tooncon in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Read more on our blog

Upcoming Games

The Twilight Struggle reprint is hopefully arriving this mid-October. In addition, the much awaited Pandemic, Game of Thrones board game and the War of the Ring reprints will be coming out later this month. As for new games, A Few Acres of Snow is arriving soon as will the Manhattan Project.

More Pre-orders

Guest Review : Caylus

Caylus Box CoverIn Caylus, you and your opponents play the roles of builders who are tasked with building a village and castle for King Philip the Fair in the year 1289. Caylus is a fairly heavy strategy game that revolves around a worker-placement mechanic. Resource-management is also a very important part of the game. Not a game for beginners to European-style board gaming – there is virtually no luck involved, accommodates 2-5 players, and games often run between 1.5 and 2.5 hours.

Appearance: This is a tricky subject, because there are actually two main versions of this game. In the original (blue box) version of the game, the board/tile art is merely average, and the coins are cardboard tokens. In the limited edition (black box) version of the game, the art is spectacular, the colours are beautiful – albeit dark – and the metal coins are a pleasure to handle. The limited edition also comes with nice cloth/felt bags for the wooden player tokens, building tiles and resources, and coins.

Rules/Ease of Learning: As I mentioned in the introduction, Caylus is not a game for beginners. There is a lot to keep track of in this game, and it can be frustrating for new players to fall behind in the early game and stay there for two hours. That being said, the rules are not terribly complex – there are just a lot of them.

The game is played over a number of rounds (averaging around 15), with seven phases per round. Players receive income to fund their worker placements in the following phase. Workers are placed along a winding track, populated with six squares that are printed on the board, six pink tiles that are randomly distributed, and a number of blank squares that are filled when the players purchase building tiles.

Each square has an action associated with it – some produce resources (wood, stone, food, cloth, gold) or money, some change turn order, some allow you to build new tiles to place along the track. Each round, players may pay to move a ‘provost’ marker that may prevent some tiles from activating at all. Players may also acquire royal favours that allow them to advance along one of four reward tracks (victory points, money, resources, or building).

Additionally, players may place workers alongside King Philip’s castle, in order to contribute to the construction of the castle dungeon, walls, and towers. Victory points are primarily scored for purchasing building tiles and building sections of the castle. The game ends when the ‘bailiff’ marker (a companion to the ‘provost’) reaches a particular square near the end of the building track.

Gameplay: Though the rules are rather complex, it is the strategy and resource juggling that makes Caylus so difficult. Deciding when you should purchase a new building, when you should build castle pieces, and when you should just take a turn to replenish your resources and money can be a headache. You may sometimes have to decide between placing a worker on a tile that benefits you and placing a worker on a tile just to prevent an opponent from reaping its benefits.

Like some other moderate- to advanced-complexity worker-placement games (Dungeon Lords, Egizia), Caylus can be quite frustrating when you make a mistake. Building tiles execute in order, and it is possibly – even likely – that you will forget that at least once in your first few games, resulting in you wasting a worker because you don’t yet have the cloth you need to joust, or the food you need to build a castle piece. However, since the game is played over more than a dozen rounds, making a mistake like this isn’t quite as devastating as in some other games.

One thing worth mentioning is that individual players’ turns are relatively short in Caylus. Since there is a worker placement phase every round, and each player may potentially place up to six workers, this is important. In my personal experience – even when playing with players who usually take a long time analyzing their moves – the phases move relatively quickly, and players will rarely find themselves waiting a significant time before it is their move once more.

It will certainly take a few games to get the hang of Caylus, but it’s well worth the effort. Gamers who have played several resource-management or worker-placement games should be able to figure things out with a minimal amount of difficulty. With no dice or cards, the only random element in Caylus is the initial six pink tiles – and the order of those tiles does modify the gameplay a fair amount.

Conclusion: Caylus is certainly one of my personal favourites. The almost nonexistent luck element and the moderate degree of competition (as players vie for turn order and choice worker placements) combine to make a game that is quite fun overall. The game works best with four players, though it plays fairly well with three or five as well. If you’re looking for a deep strategy game that will keep you and your friends busy for a few hours, Caylus is a good bet.

Starlit Citadel Survey Results

I thought some of you might be interest dint he survey results.  I am not going to post all the results, some of it will be no real interest to casual readers, others we feel might be a tad too personal (even if all the information is consolidated).

Game Research

Here’s the chart on how the survey respondents get information on products:

Board Game Research Methods

 

I’d show you the chart for what sites people visited but it’s a mess.  I definitely need to review how we ask that question, we just didn’t get the results we needed.  The only standout (big surprise) was BoardGameGeek. Otherwise, various fan review sites and publisher sites seem to be the other major sources.

On the Site

Of those customers who did the survey, 52% had purchased from us in the last 6 months.  Of course, I have a feeling that this is a biased response since the customers who would respond to get the 5% coupon would also be those with the most engagement.

For the most part, 56% of our respondents first purchased from us due to price. Otherwise, availability and convenience were the second and third most quoted reason for purchasing from us.

Other Hobbies

In terms of other hobbies, these were the responses that we received.

Other hobby interests by survey respondents

Not a huge surprise that our customers were gamers of one form or another.  What was surprising that many were role-playing gamers like myself.  Of the lines we could add, RPGs came out on top as well, so it’s certainly something we’ll be looking at closely in the near future.

Communication & the Blog

Most customers visited our homepage and used our newsletter as their main form of communication, with social media following far behind in comparison.

In terms of the blog, what customers really wanted to see were more reviews.   On that, we have the guest reviewers being added.

The Respondents

Here’s some quick pointers about our respondents:

  • 89% male
  • 11% female

Of these:

  • 55% were between 22 – 34
  • 30% were 35 to 44

And lastly, we’re a generally well educated group

  • 61% had a university degree or more
  • another 19% had some college (which could easily be those currently studying as well)

Conclusion

Hope you found the results as interesting as we did.  We have quite a bit of information now about our customers, some of which we’ll be using to improve the site and our marketing.  We’ll likely host another survey next year to get an idea about any changes.

Guest Review : Dixit the Board Game

Dixit Box frontDixit is a wonderful family/party game for 3-6 players with light strategic elements, fast-paced, creative gameplay and beautiful artwork that will satisfy novice players and seasoned board game veterans of all ages. It is a game that primarily requires imagination and deduction, and maybe a little bit of telepathy. A great quick game for younger crowds or mixed age/experience groups; Dixit should only take 30-45 minutes to play.

Appearance: Dixit is absolutely gorgeous. The 84 cards that comprise the central mechanic of the game are beautifully-illustrated by artist Marie Cardouat, and are often fantastic, absurd, or downright strange. Words don’t really do the game art justice; see below for some pictures. The wooden bidding tokens handle easily, and the rabbit-shaped player tokens are a nice touch.

Setup of the game board for DIxitRules/Ease of Learning: The rules of Dixit are quite simple. Each player is dealt a hand of six cards. The active player begins by saying a word, reciting a quotation, singing a song, or even making a noise that somehow describes one of the cards. This is very open to interpretation – a player may physically describe some object in the picture, an emotion expressed by the picture, a memory they associate with the depicted events, etc. This is really only limited by the player’s imagination. Once the active player has vocalized the chosen card, each player must lay a card face-down on the table that they think best embodies the active player’s description. Often this requires some creative thinking on the part of the other players; it is rare that the word or phrase spoken by the active player will perfectly describe one of their cards as well.

The next phase of the game is bidding. The cards are shuffled and laid face-up on the table, and assigned numbers from left to right. Each player (excluding the active player) must secretly bid on the card they believe was laid by the active player. When all bids have been placed, the bidding tiles are turned face-up and scoring begins.

Scoring is the trickiest part of the rules. The active player only receives points if at least one player (but not all of them) chose the correct card. If all or none of the players chose the active player’s card, everybody but the active player scores points. This means that the active player must pick a word/phrase/etc. that is neither too specific nor too vague. Once the scoring is complete, the active player changes and a new round begins.

Dixit Score Track and Inside BoxGameplay: Though the rules are simple, the strategy is tricky enough that most new players will spend a few rounds of frustration as either nobody or everybody picks their card, denying them from scoring any points. Sometimes you are unlucky and nobody else has a card that even remotely matches the active player’s word or phrase, making it an easy choice for all. However, once players have played a few rounds, it becomes easier to find the right balance between obscurity and precision.

The gameplay in Dixit is also aided by an almost complete lack of language-dependence. Being composed almost entirely of pictures, Dixit can be played by people of varying linguistic ability – be they young children or people who speak English as a second language (though you may have to explain a word or two). I have played this game several times with people who have low to intermediate English skills, and it works very well. The flexibility of the verbal component of this game means it scales itself to the ability of the players. Clues might often be a single adjective, when playing with younger players or students. If playing with an older crowd, clues might be references to movies or song lyrics. If playing with close friends, clues could include inside jokes that might give certain players a somewhat-unfair advantage.

The above praise notwithstanding, the fantastic art and simple gameplay often steers veteran board gamers away from Dixit. It is easy to see Dixit as a game solely for families and young children, but one shouldn’t discount it entirely. Part of the amusement I derive from Dixit is trying to guess how other people think I think, and then trying to outthink them. The strategy involved is as complicated as you wish to make it.

The strategy and gameplay in Dixit depends partially on the number of players. The three player game is somewhat weak, although the rules change do change to accommodate the lower number of players, with each player (except the active player) choosing two cards instead of one. Nevertheless, the game is definitely much more enjoyable with five or six players. Because the game is played until the deck is depleted, increasing the number of players adds more depth and enjoyment to the game without appreciably increasing game length.

Dixit Card Close-UpBeing a game that relies on individual imagination, Dixit can vary wildly from group to group. Knowing one of your opponents very well often helps you make the leap of logic between the picture on the table and the word or phrase spoken by the active player. Players often have to put themselves in their opponent’s shoes to try to figure out how their minds work. Telepathy is an asset.

Conclusion: Overall, Dixit is one of the best party/family games that I’ve played in recent years. It combines imagination and creativity with deduction and mind-reading to create a game that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and skill levels. People looking for a serious, strategically complex game should steer clear, but those who want a game they could play with their children, friends, parents, and grandparents all at the same time should certainly give Dixit a chance.

August 2011 Newsletter

Site Improvements

There have been a lot of improvements to the site, both on a usability perspective as well as additional options for customers. Here’s a quick list and more details can be found on the blog post:

  • Local Pickup Appointment Calender .
  • 5 Reward Points for Tagging
  • Product Quantities
  • Search for Pages
  • Search for Products Improved with Auto-fill
  • Frequently Bought Together / Customers Who Bought This Also Bought

Site Updates & Conventions

This month, between August 13 – 14, 2011, a new convention is happening in Vancouver called Cos & Effect. It’s mostly a cosplay / steampunk event, but we will be hosting a gaming section right next to our vendor’s booth at their request. Lots of our open board games available to demo & play so drop by if you are in the neighborhood.

The first two of three posts concerning our survey results are out. These posts deal directly with the comments at the end of the survey. We’ll also provide select answers from the survey in our 3rd post later this month.

Lastly, we’ve added a new Google +1 link on the homepage. Please use if you have a Google Account to support us.

Read more on our blog

Upcoming Games

Dixit : Odysey has again been delayed, now we’re being told middle of this month but I’d caution optimism – we’ve had the release date changed on us 4 times already. On other notes, the Twilight Struggle reprint is expected sometime this month as is Rune Age and the next Lord of the Rings Adventure Pack.

More Pre-orders

Ongoing Site Modifications

There have been some improvements to the site, both on a usability perspective as well as additional options for use.  I thought I’d list them out here if you missed them:

Local Pickup Appointment Calender

We now have an appointment calender powered by Google.  If you have a Google Account, you can just log-in to the calender and book your appointment directly if you have a shipment confirmation.  This seems to be working quite well, with less calls to us and customers able to manage the appointments themselves.

Reward Points for Tagging

As a new way to get points, if you log into your account and tag products, for each approved tag, we will give you 5 reward points.  Hopefully, this will make navigating easier for customers.

Survey

Don’t forget we still have our survey running.  It’s a great way to get a 5% off coupon code and your comments and answers gives us a direction for improvements on the site.

Product Quantities

You might also have noticed that we’ve decided to make product quantities in the warehouse live.  We hadn’t done it before due to competitive fears, but have decided that customer convenience trumps our fears.

Search for Pages

We’ve added new functionality on the site to allow searches on our article / FAQ / etc. pages.  This should make it easier for customers to find information about things like what to do with our Reward Points or our Local Pickup policies.

In addition, we’ve added a new module for Search that should make searches better.  If you type the first three letters of your search, a list of related items will appear immediately to auto-complete your search.

Frequently Bought Together / Customers Who Bought This Also Bought

We’ve also finally gotten the automated code installed on the site that provides upsell / cross-sell information direct from our database of actual sales, so hopefully this information is now more useful for customers.

 

Small World update

Wow, Small World really has been the hit of the year so far.  It’s now out-of-stock on the publisher level.  Alliance just confirmed this.

I was able to get 7 additional copies from a Canadian distributor, of which 1 is already spoken for.   Unfortunately, I’ve also had to raise the prices marginally since the pricing from the CAD distributors are much higher.  Once these last copies are sold, the next set will be when DOW reprints, whenever that is.

If you have been planning to buy Small World, this would be the time to do it before it goes out of stock for a number of months.